According to the United Nation’s The State of Broadband 2013: Universalising Broadband report, mobile subscriptions in Africa and the Middle-East alone have exceeded one billion in the first quarter of 2013.
This indicates the significant importance of access to the internet and growing internet usage via mobile phone.
“South Africa, from last year this year, jumped from 21 per cent to 41 per cent. In the rest of Africa, the rate is a lot slower, and I think that’s a worrying factor. Probably an advantage for South Africa, but if we look at Kenya, Nigeria, for instance, they only jumped a couple of percentage points from last year to this year. It might be something to do with how the statistics are put together,” Frost & Sullivan Africa head of ICT Ian Duvenage told CNBC Africa.
“I do still think that the African continent is at a massive disadvantage because we are not connected, and we’re not swapping over to smartphones quick enough to make use of the internet in general.”
According to the report, 41 per cent of South Africans use the internet, and in 2012, the country was ranked 62nd out of 170 countries in terms of mobile broadband penetration worldwide per 100 inhabitants.
Mobile penetration rate in sub-Saharan Africa is currently at 53 per cent, but smartphone penetration is significantly lower. Access to high-speed internet in Africa is also still limited despite easy smartphone accessibility.
“Smartphones obviously give you access to a certain extent. Operators are quickly swapping over to technology that’s increasing the speed, so we’re seeing more coverage of the countries mentioned,” Duvenage explained.
“We’re seeing a bit more uptake of smartphones, but the actual usage of it and individuals’ education on what to do with a smartphone once they get it, that is one of the things holding us back. Although we’re swapping over to smartphones, tablets and all that, what to do with it is still a big question in Africa.”
Social media has however been a big supporter in the use of advanced technology services, and the relationship between the two is playing a central role in how Africans connect with one another, with brands and with the rest of the world.
“Social media is driving it quite a bit. If you look at the numbers, I think Egypt’s sitting at 20th in the world, South Africa around the 30s. We are picking up quite a bit and I think it’s making people quite comfortable with technology, the internet and with the different way of using it,” said Duvenage.
“Traditionally there’s quite a bit of storytelling and translating of information in a certain way. Social media’s definitely driving that in Africa.”